Things old and new in Austin in late fall

Repeat in Austin for Texas Teacher of the Year

We congratulate Tara Bordeaux, a media arts instructor at Lanier Early College High School in Austin, on being named the 2018 Texas Teacher of the Year. She’s in her fifth year at the high school and teaches audio and video production, wrote Isabella Ilamas, Eric Tejeda, and Sebastian Reyes in the Viking Voice, the student newspaper at the school.

The honor marks the second year in a row a teacher from the Austin Independent School District in the state’s capital has been named the state Teacher of the Year.

“It’s overwhelming,” she was quoted as saying. “I am beyond honored to represent the district, and humbled to even be considered for this award.”

Ms Bordeaux spent the decade before moving to Texas working in Los Angeles, helping to make movies and TV shows. She worked on shows like Criminal Minds, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Sons of Anarchy, and films such as Cloverfield, Hitman, and 3:10 to Yuma.

“I wanted to bring a little piece of Hollywood back with me,” she said. “It’s important to me that students get to experience the film industry hands-on and, through the Media Arts program, be given as many professional opportunities as possible to network with industry pros.”

New money to build things in education

Voters in Austin recently approved a bond issue for more than a billion dollars to upgrade current schools and build new ones, according to an editorial in The Dispatch, the student newspaper at James Bowie High School.

As part of the new money, the school is expected to receive a parking garage, renovated and expanded athletics facilities, a new and expanded fine arts facility, and technology upgrades. The funds will also help maintain the heating and air conditioning equipment in the school.

On Election Day last month, students stood outside the school to remind people to vote, but the paper’s editors opine that it can’t end there, now that the bond issue has passed.

“Although Bowie is in a nice, fairly wealthy area of Austin, it was in need of attention,” they write, referring to a two-year effort reaching out to community members to determine how best to invest the money. “This was not because of poor, under-performing facilities but rather an overcrowded school.”

And for technology upgrades

Funding is also being provided by the school district to upgrade technology in the hands of students. Upgrades include new Chromebooks for a 1-to-1 technology program at one high school, set to begin after the winter break, guest writer Kristen Tibbetts says in The Shield, the student newspaper at McCallum High School.

She’s not, shall we say, too happy about converting lessons and homework from pen-and-paper assignments to the Chromebooks:

Chances are, you are well aware of a systematic shift that schools across the country are participating in: switching from traditional classroom resources to online tools, such as the infamous Blend project that has been implemented at McCallum this year. There has been an obvious increase in online homework, assignments, tutoring and other schoolwork in the past few years, and it is expected to continue growing.

The so-called “modern” classrooms aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, she writes, and can lead to discomfort for students. “A miserable headache, nausea and some degree of eye strain are some of the most typical symptoms. After talking to my classmates about it, I realized that I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed by an influx of Blend assignments or other computer work; operating over a screen for long periods of time has been proven to increase anxiety and stress.”

Anna Tabet, a reporter for the Cavalier Chronicle at Lake Travis High School, would probably agree that technology brings its fair share of frustration for students, especially if teachers aren’t consistently up to the task of using the new technology.

As of two years ago, [LTHS] became completely dependent on the platform [Schoology] for getting word out to students for all school- and class-related issues and activities. If a student lost an assignment or needed to know if they had a test the following day, they checked Schoology. Nonetheless, some teachers utilized the website to teach and at times test certain parts of their lessons, while others would rarely update the students’ daily agenda. This severe divide leaves many students frustrated and lost, for they are not able to attain the information they need, and with each teacher formatting their pages differently, they frequently don’t know where to look.

It’s very difficult to stop the technology train from penetrating the concrete walls of our schools, she writes, but with so many diverse platforms in use, it can be confusing for students.

And how about a few non-technology upgrades?

A student at the W Akins High School writes that it would benefit students if a daycare facility could be provided for teen parents.

“I come from a family where both of my parents dropped out because they were 16 when my mom found out she was pregnant,” writes staff reporter Britney Gonzalez in The Eagle’s Eye. “They didn’t drop out just because they needed to start working to provide for the baby, or because my mom was embarrassed and didn’t want to be seen. They dropped out because she didn’t know who was going to be able to take care of the baby.”

She says more than 60 percent of pregnant teens end up dropping out of school, citing statistics from Texas. Other programs at the high school are specifically tailored to meet the needs of students who are at risk of dropping out, so why not put aside criticisms that such a facility would bring detractors? Why not do something aimed at keeping these students in school?

“If they had affordable on-campus childcare they would be motivated knowing their children are being taken care of while they are educating themselves to provide a better future for them.”

An old book takes on new meaning in 2017

In a book review for The Trailblazer, the student newspaper at McNeil High School, Jinhee Wang writes a piece entitled “Lock Her Up,” a clear reference to the campaign of President Donald Trump last year. It takes a look at the novel Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, published in 1847.

Although the story’s antagonist, Rochester, is not at all like Mr Trump when it comes to respect for women, it was revolutionary for the 1840s for a female author to write about how society (not so much school) views women who drop out because of shame. In high school, that shame can come from an early pregnancy, but in the book, it’s mental illness that keeps Rochester’s wife hidden away from the world. An entirely different force keeps young Jane Eyre away from public view earlier in her life, but you’ll have to read Bronte’s novel to understand that.

“Jane Eyre is a woman who is born happy but ends up miserable,” Jinhee writes. Along the way, she is psychologically (and physically) cast out by the wife of her uncle and by the headmaster at a boarding school. I wonder if Mr Trump still harbors a belief that Hillary Clinton should be locked up for her email scandal.

And new books get rave reviews

One need not turn to Bronte to discover new ideas in literature, according to a book review in The Featherduster, the student news site at Westlake High School. Mills Cypert reviews Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You, a book about a 15-year-old girl in the 1970s who is introduced in the first sentence of the novel: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.”

There’s a bit of sugarcoating in the book—family values, caring, and all—but under all of that, there’s tension and jealousy.

The novel, Mills writes, “has deepened the idea that everyone is different with their own flaws, different dreams, different appearances, different smiles, and that it so crucial to accept everyone and let them grow into their unique selves.”

As do new movies.

“Continuing the billion-dollar Star Wars saga, Star Wars: Episode VIII: The Last Jedi was released December 15,” write Blakely Dimiero and Peyton Klam in the student newspaper at Vandegrift High School. Last weekend ushered in the second-largest domestic opening ever: $220 million.

The writers found the movie to feature more humor than other Star Wars episodes and “even more jaw-dropping visuals and special effects. This film steps away from the usual scripts to bring us something new and entertaining. Director Rian Johnson seems to be pushing us to the post-Skywalker era, to open up a path for the newest generations of heroes.”

Although the new movie includes many of the longstanding disappointments with the Star Wars franchise—such as, “apparently every single device, ship, or Death Star created by the Empire operates in a way that, if you just happen to hit one vulnerable spot, the entire thing blows up,” and other blunders that make the whole movie less credible—the latest episode is definitely a must-see for Star Wars fans.

New snow in Texas

Central Texans got a rare treat of snow on December 7, several student newspapers noted. And they posted hundreds of photos.

“It’s crazy that earlier this week it was like 80 degrees, and now it’s snowing,” the Westwood (High School) Horizon quoted one senior as saying.

Finally, the Canyon Echoes, the student news site at Canyon Vista Middle School, posted 121 pictures of the snow in Texas.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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